Tuesday, November 21 , 2017, 8:41 pm | Fair 61º

 
 
 
 

Local News

Santa Barbara Bowl Partners with OTOjOY to Help People with Hearing Loss

Hearing loop technology benefits concert-goers with cochlear implants and hearing aids

Concert-goers with cochlear implants and hearing aids were able to fully enjjoy the recent Blondie concert at the Santa Barbara Bowl, above, utilizing new hearing loop technology installed by locally based OTOjOY. Click to view larger
Concert-goers with cochlear implants and hearing aids were able to fully enjjoy the recent Blondie concert at the Santa Barbara Bowl, above, utilizing new hearing loop technology installed by locally based OTOjOY. (Steve Kennedy photo)

When Santa Barbara resident Nora McNeely Hurley attended a live Radiohead concert at the Santa Barbara Bowl earlier this year, the listening experience was different than the ones before.

This time, she could hear clearly.

That’s because she was utilizing hearing loop technology that allows concert-goers with cochlear implants and hearing aids to hear the production as the sound is projected directly to their hearing devices using magnetic fields. 

OTOjOY, a Santa Barbara-based company, has placed the wiring for the hearing loop system throughout the 4,562-seat amphitheater.

“I have been an enthusiastic supporter of the bowl for decades, however, was forced to give up going to concerts as I could not make sense of music,” Hurley wrote in a statement. “I could discern each instrument being played and heard them clearly thanks to the hearing loop.”

By flipping a switch on hearing aids or cochlear implants, the device turns into wireless earphones that broadcast sound customized for the wearer's hearing loss.

OTOjOY's founder Thomas Kaufmann contacted the venue to let him install the program. The company placed a hearing loop system free of charge in the preferred seating section last year as a trial for the venue to evaluate it and receive feedback from guests.

The positive response prompted the bowl to upgrade the system and cover every seat in the amphitheater, Kaufmann said. The technology was turned on earlier this year.

“The bowl now provides full and truly equal access for their patrons with hearing loss, since they can simply walk into the venue, choose any seat they like, and press a button on their own hearing device to receive the music directly into their ears,” Kaufmann said. “They don't draw attention to their invisible disability and can participate and experience the show like anybody else.”

The company has installed the system at various other theaters, public buildings and venues throughout California. 

“While the technology has been available for many decades and is widespread in Europe, it is still relatively new to the U.S.,” Kaufmann said. “Most people have no idea that approximately 20 percent of the U.S. population are affected by hearing loss, and how much they struggle to understand speech in the presence of background noise or enjoy music in large spaces.”

The Santa Barbara Bowl is the largest outdoor amphitheater in the U.S. offering the audio loop to guests, bowl Executive Director Rick Boller said.

“Our goal is to make the music accessible to all of our patrons,” Boller said. “It’s exciting because it opens up a world of possibilities. Previously, we had to ask patrons to relocate to certain areas.”

Boller said the bowl also supplies looped headset devices to concert-goers if they don’t have their own hearing devices. 

“It’s a free service — just ask any of our volunteer ushers,” Boller said.

Noozhawk staff writer Brooke Holland can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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